Tuesday 18 June 2019

Hats and canals – 5 things about England’s World Cup opponents Panama

The World Cup debutants take on the Three Lions in Group G on Sunday.

Fidel Escobar played in Panama’s opening game against Belgium (David Davies/PA)
Fidel Escobar played in Panama’s opening game against Belgium (David Davies/PA)

By Press Association Sport staff

England meet Panama in their second game of the 2018 World Cup on Sunday as they look to continue their winning start in Russia.

While Gareth Southgate’s side aim to improve on recent tournament showings, this is Panama’s maiden voyage into a World Cup as the Central American nation set out to make a mark on the biggest stage.

Here, Press Association Sport takes a look at five things, on and off the football pitch, which you may not know about the country.

An Englishman in Panama City

Gary Stempel led Panama to their maiden international football title (Tony Marshall/Empics)

Born in Panama to a Panamanian father and an English mother, Gary Stempel returned to London at the age of five but always harboured an ambition to work in football. After a stint as community outreach officer at Millwall, Arsenal fan Stempel returned to Panama and eventually took over as the nation’s coach in 2008. He had already won club honours before guiding Panama to their first-ever trophy – the 2009 Central American Nations Cup – and still works within the Panamanian Football Federation.

Hats off

World-famous Panama hats are not actually made in the country (Steve Parsons/PA)

For many people, Panama is best known for either the canal linking the Pacific and Atlantic oceans or for their world-famous hats. However, the Panama hat has never actually been produced in the country and is Ecuadorian in origin. Originally sales of the hats were easier to come by in Panama than its native home and so the name was adopted by those sporting their new straw headpiece.

Three and easy

Gomez took over as Panama boss in in 2014 (David Davies/PA)

Panama coach Hernan Dario Gomez became only the second man to lead three different nations through a qualifying campaign and into a World Cup as he guided the country to Russia. The 62-year-old also masterminded his native Colombia to the 1998 World Cup – his side beaten 2-0 by England during the group stages – before taking Ecuador to Japan and South Korea four years later. He follows on from Henri Michel as the only other man to be in charge of three nations throughout qualification and into the finals themselves.

Waterway to travel

The Panama Canal has been open since 1914 (PA)

The Panama Canal was constructed by the United States and opened in 1914 – the national football team are known as ‘Los Canaleros’ or ‘The Canal Men’ in reference to the waterway. It allows vessels to take a 51-mile route from the Pacific Ocean in the west to the Atlantic in the east, rather than having to navigate around South America. Listed as one of the seven industrial wonders of the world, three sets of locks and a number of artificial lakes assist cargo vessels and cruise ships from one ocean to another.

The goal-den generation

Veteran striker Blas Perez is closing in on 50 goals for Panama (David Davies/PA)

This Panama team will go down in history as the first to play for the country at a World Cup. Helping to achieve such a feat are the nation’s two record goalscorers – both of whom will be looking to shoot down England in Nizhny Novgorod. Both Luis Tejada and Blas Perez have scored 43 goals for Panama – more than double that of any other international in the nation’s history – and are likely candidates to hit the country’s first World Cup goal.

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